Tag Archives: Christianity

Why Lent is a Good Idea for Everyone

lentIt was the pancakes. That’s what caught my attention. Shrove Tuesday – a sacred day of pancake eating. How awesome is that?

There wasn’t much talk of liturgical calanders in my Evangelical upbringing. Just cautionary tales and the whispered suggestion that they might, POSSIBLY be Real Christians, but just barely. Poor, meaningless automotans with their empty rituals. And then there’s the Catholics. A superstitious bunch, I was taught, barely discernable from the heathens; who prayed to statues, and for some reason, like to eat fish on Friday.

We weren’t very comfortable with anyone who wasn’t Us. Like the Pentecostals. And the United Church. And the Mormons. And the Agnostics. And the very scariest creatures of all: the Atheists (word is, they have an “Agenda” and we should watch out for that).

My world didn’t stay that small. Most Evangelical circles have opened up somewhat in the past decade (or two… or okay fine… three) since I was a child. The popular Mitford book series opened up the strange world of Episcopalians to many. These days, it’s not unusual to hear a discussion on Lectio Divina in a Baptist bible study. Or a more casual Stations of the Cross set up in the local community church.

As I got to know (and love and be related to) actual people who followed liturgical tradition, I began to see the unique beauty of it (and not just the pancakes). It may not be the style of worship I’m used to, but it is deeply meaningful and steeped in history. Ancient traditions so much more powerful that the latest born-again fad at the local Blessings bookstore. Maybe WE are the ones who have been missing out.

Which brings me back to the pancakes. Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. When you get your house in order both figuratively with confession and literally (by using up rich foods like sugar, dairy and eggs) before a period of fasting or plain eating. Enter: hallowed consumption of pancakes.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. These 40 days (not counting Sundays) are a time for the faithful to prepare themselves for the celebration of Easter Sunday. It is a period of fasting or self denial, prayer, contemplation, examining oneself, and starting over.

For most of us from an Evangelical tradition, or no tradition at all, it is known as: Another-Wednesday-Just-Like-Any-Other. But who’s to say we can’t make it more? Lent is a good idea for EVERYONE and here’s why:

Be part of history.

Hundreds of years ago there was a tired, middle-aged (though still hip and young-at-heart) Mom just like me, who set apart these six weeks to live simply and refocus spiritually. That I might walk alongside her and the women who came before her and women who came after and the women who will come after me is something amazing. The Church (big C) is more than the congregation of my home church or other people in my country who may check the “Christian” box of a questionnaire; it is a family of faith that encircles the globe and stretches back throughout history. When we worship through Lent, we worship together.

We have so much.

More than any people who have ever lived. More than any who celebrated Lent before us. We are a culture and a generation of so much. So much to do. So much to see. So much to know. So much to eat. So much to distract and burden and overwhelm. We need Lent more than ever.

It’s a prelude to the feast.

Lent is not about asceticism (a harsh mentality where deprivation is the ultimate spiritual virtue). It’s preperation for the ultimate celebration. For those of us who worship Jesus, Easter is more than another stat holiday. It’s more than chocolate eggs and pretty dresses and church choirs. But if we don’t put the time and effort into preparing ourselves, even an inspiring sermon and touching music will not soak soul deep.

Lent is a good idea for everyone. The Evangelicals, and the Catholics, and the Pentecostals… and the Agnostics, and even the Athiests. We could ALL use a Spiritual Detox.

Make Lent your own this year.

So here’s me, fasting every night from 7 pm until 7 am (which doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but for me it really is).

lentbookLent Resources:

This year I’ll be reading through Show Me the Way by Henri Nouwen

Lent and Dying to Yourself (video with Diana Butler Bass)

Why Evangelicals Need Lent by Tim Suttle

Get Lent by Andrew Santella

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Hellbound?

There of some us out here for whom “Hell” is more than just a plot point in the latest episode of Supernatural. More than a video game catchphrase: “Burn in hell, suckers!” More than a slightly-less-sinful curse word.

Whether you were raised with it or jumped in later in life, the Christian concept of hell is by turns horrific, disconcerting and yet, to some, comforting.

“The Bible is clear.” It’s something I heard all my life. From the pulpit. From Sunday School teachers. From my own parents. It’s a sentence I’ve thrown around myself in years past.

And there are topics which the bible is clear and straightforward on.

Hell is not one of them.

Today I did something different. I paid full price to see a documentary in a movie theater. I bypassed Bruce Willis’ journey back in time to kill his younger self. I forsook serious Ben Affleck. I didn’t even give the quirky teen drama a second thought.

Hellbound? explores the surprisingly vast spectrum of beliefs within Christianity about Hell. Writer and Director Kevin Miller interviews pastors, authors, scholars and even death metal musicians as he navigates us through the issues. From uber-conservative Mark Driscoll to emergent thinker Brian McClaren, from those with absolute certainty to those “living in the mystery”, everyone contributes a verse.

There are three classic positions on hell: those who believe it is a literal place of eternal conscious torment, those who believe it is simply the end of a soul’s existence (annihilationism) and those who believe that is either a temporary or metaphorical condition from which all people will ultimately be redeemed (universalism). What many do not realize is that there is scriptural and historical support for all three sides of the debate. The answers are not simple.

There is something to offend everyone in this film, whether it is a death metal rocker positing that religion is simply a money-making business, or the hateful vitriol of the Westboro Baptist church member who insists that God hates almost everyone. My favourite part is when this 50-year-old woman refers to the interviewer as a pussy. Very godly.

This is not a cheesy church-umentary to be played in church basements and used for neighbourhood outreach. It is a fascinating look at a complex and contentious issue.

The release of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” rocked the evangelical community last year. There are many who believe we are better off NOT to broach the discussion at all. But these are the questions people are asking. And I have to agree with Gregory Boyd who said “the truth shouldn’t have anything to fear.”

So here’s me, not a bible scholar, or pastor, or theologian; just a regular Jo. And this movie was made for us too. Choose it – Bruce Willis will be killing someone else next month.


The Myth of Us and Them

I watched a documentary about the Amish last night. It reminded me of drives to St. Jacob’s for the farmer’s market and Amish bakery. Sour Northern Spy apples. Giant sugar cookie pigs. Sweet buns and fresh bread. The quaint characters we craned our necks to see as we zipped past in modern convenience. But most of all, it reminded me of me.

The program explored this strange subculture, both good and bad. The ones who left. The ones who stayed. Neither ones the villains. Both the victims, in their own way.

The customs. The secrets. The lines drawn in the sand. Tradition. Conviction. Fear.

And it all sounded so familiar. Not only from family stories of our strict Brethren sect, but from my life here and now. Because we draw lines in the sand too. In different places, but they are still there.

This is something I wrote a few months ago. It is a little different. I usually keep the rambly “poetic” pieces securely hidden in journal pages, but I’m running low on time and energy, and feeling a bit brave today.

How do we separate “us” and “them”?

We try to wrap our skinny arms around it, digging in our nails, gritting our teeth. So we can throw it down and beat it into submission.

We’re the church, we’re big on submission. Not the doing, but the saying.

White knuckled and wide-eyed. You can almost smell the fear. In whispered rumors and wild innuendo… cause that sort of thing is contagious, you know? We have to keep that shit, excuse me, sin out. We cannot let them win.

So we create our own. Our own music. Our own slang. Even our own breath mints.

But we are them.

And they are us.

No matter what brand of candy we chew.

Culture was never the problem. Creating a new one won’t save us. Bullying “them” pleasantly, with our kind intentions, until “we”, happily deluded, feel safe.

But we are them.

And we are as full of shit as anyone.

And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else.

Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God.

What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.

Romans 3: 20 (MSG)

So here’s me, and yes, I used the word “shit.” If that’s all you can think about, then you probably missed the point anyway.

And I’m not kidding about the breath mints. “Testa-mints” – has anyone tried them? They’re like Certs, with a righteous after taste.


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